Sandy Millin – Stepping into the real world: transitioning listening

In the end, I chose Sandy’s session out of my three-way clash: it’s always good to learn better ways of teaching listening! Plus, I didn’t want to miss Sandy speak. 🙂 Stepping away from Academic English for a while, back into the world of regular teaching of an important skill…

Stepping into the real world: transitioning listening

Sandy’s presentation will be available on her blog, including the audio she will use AND a recording! She used a “greet three new people” to illustrate some of the difficulties in listening.

“I’ve been studying English for years but I can’t understand anyone” – quote from a student in Newcastle. (Not only Newcastlers – films too, in London…) How can we help students understand English outside of the classroom/course book?

What is the difference between listening to whats in the coursebook/classroom and what’s outside?

In the classroom

  1. What do students listen to?
  2. What type of tasks to do they do?

1.

  • the teacher (if speaking in English – instructions, a story…)
  • – the other students
  • – recordings from the book (get longer as you go up the levels)

2.

  • Comprehension tasks
  • picking out new language
  • testing the level
  • the next thing in the book

In real life:

1. Real people – face to face, on the phone, on the screen etc

2.

  • For interaction
  • because they need something
  • to join the conversation
  • for information (e.g. train station)
  • because they want to (e.g. music/film)

Different!

Sandy played a recording from a course book (NEF – got lots of laughs because of course it sounded *so* natural…!) and then one from real life.

– interruptions, false starts, overlapping, pauses, fillers, you could work out what the language point was in NEF, two men rather than a man and woman (as common in course books until higher levels)

What went wrong?

  • follow up on answers, find out why they got things wrong rather than just telling them it’s wrong.

Could be:

  • speed
  • range of voice types (e.g. age, gender)
  • sound quality (or lack of sound)
  • lack of language
  • lack of confidence

Today will mostly focus on speed and voice type.

Weak forms

Pronunciation of a word changes when within a sentence. The schwas make a difference – the most important sound? With this sound, it’s difficult to draw the line between pron. and listening. “I wanna be a schwa – it’s never stressed!”

Give students some common grammar words which have strong and weak forms; ask learners to create a sentence using these words or a short story and discuss whether it’s a strong or a weak form as used in that context. Learners have to identify when the sounds will be weak or strong, then try to say them. Trying it out in sentences helps learners to be more confident when they hear it. Not expected to speak like this all the time, just a classroom game to build confidence and ability to recognise sounds.

Get students to race to say sentences as quickly as possible to win a point for their team. Weak forms come out as they try to get the sentences out as fast as they can.

Connected Speech

Apples and pears – in the word-blender – becomes:

apple zum pears

Sandy showed a worksheet with tic-tac-toe for explaining sound changes (has it moved? changed? disappeared?)

  • sol tum pepper
  • wom potato
  • frozum peas
  • a loafer slice bread   etc

from the http://hancockmcdonald.com/materials/word-blender website

Don’t need to use complicated meta-language: just “the sound moves” or “the sound disappears” is fine.

What about final consonant and initial vowel link? Sandy spent half an hour pulling things out of a sentence, using the rules she had been teaching them. This was with pre-intermediate students and they could produce it at regular speed, feel it in their mouths and understand why the listening might have been difficult if a native speaker had been saying it to them.

Transcripts: With a listening with a very difficult accent (e.g. Irish!) – after the listening, get learners to look at a transcript and identify all the consonant-vowel links. You don’t need to use the whole transcript, just a paragraph, and just look at one rule at a time.

Next, we need something to write with. I shall use this blog post!

Micro-dictations: we hear two sentences and write them down.

  1. Today we’re looking at a lot of listening activities.
  2. I’m here for a conference.

That’s a single sentence, all we had to do was write it down. Easy? For us, yes. Not for pre-int students. Students have control of a sentence recording, they have to transcribe it on the board. Teacher outside of the room so that the students don’t keep turning to him/her.

To clip audio:

  • audacity (pc/mac)
  • wavepad (ipad)
  • mp3cut.net (online)
  • safeshare.tv (youtube – online, also good for cutting out the ads.)

Comprehension

Consists of using bottom up skills (using small components – words) and top-down skills (using the wider context) and bringing them together to make sense.

The activities so far have been for bottom up comprehension. The next one should be top-down.

Activity: What’s next?

When I was… younger, a child, a kid, I …. used to go….to scouts/skiing swimming every Saturday

How did you know what would come next? Collocation, colligation etc If you do this activity with students, you can build up their confidence because they see how much of meaning they can construct in their heads.

A range of voices

  • Guests #eltchat “I’d really like somebody to talk about x in my classroom” – you might find someone who could do a skype into your classroom. Or you could use Facebook TeachingEnglish page. Or anybody you know who speaks English and can come into your classroom – e.g. visitors. [Sandy played a recording of when her cousin visited her and came into the classroom and the students had to try and get him to use a way of talking about the past that they might not recognise being used but had learnt about. Dan knew nothing about this] – would. Dan used it 19 times… This audio will be on Sandy’s blog if you’d like to use it with your students! Students said “Oh my God, you actually do use this!
  • Leaving the classroom: to get different voices
  • English language listening library (www.elllo.org) – lots of short recordings and you can search it by accent (how brilliant is this?!) Being added to all the time.
  • Collins English for Life – Listening: A2 pre-intermediate (Sandy got as a sample copy and uses all the time) – natural speed conversations, various accents, tasks graded rather than text. (Worth investing?!)
  • Extended listening: encourage your students to do so from early levels – you don’t need to be able to understand everything. Just getting your ears used to the rhythm of the speech that you listen to. You’d be surprised how many students don’t think about this. E.g. films, tv programmes (E.g. twenty minute sitcoms), BBC – one and two minute videos around the website but on the youtube channel there are more extended pieces (if abroad, there are some 30 min programmes on there), podcasts, TED talks.

Further reading:

Listening in the language classroom by John Field, 2008 Cambridge University Press (recommended to Sandy by me! 😀 )

….Yep! I don’t regret coming to this one!! 😀 

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6 thoughts on “Sandy Millin – Stepping into the real world: transitioning listening

  1. Pingback: IATEFL 2014: Bringing all my posts together in one place! | Reflections of an English Language Teacher

  2. Pingback: Helping pre-intermediate learners with listening: focus on weak forms | Reflections of an English Language Teacher

  3. Hi Lizzie, there’s a mistake in your Hancock URL – it should say ‘materials’ not materals (I found this when I got a 404 after clicking the link).

    I appreciate the write up as I would have loved to attend Sandy’s talk.. the issue of bottom-up listening and its close relationship to features of connected speech (and how they’re relatively neglected areas in ELT) is a subject close to my heart.

    There was a brilliant talk by Sasha Euler at IATEFL 2013 where he described how many of his ‘Advanced’ students were still unable to understand NS speech to any but the most basic level. He broke this problem down into specific features of connected speech that caused them difficulties and then described how he’d implemented a course based on this.

    I believe that most of the (bottom up) improvement in listening will come from raising awareness of such features. After all, it’s no coincidence that Cauldwell’s book is called “The Phonology of Listening – Teaching the Stream of Speech”.

    Thanks for all the IATEFL writeups, I really appreciate them!

    • Thanks for the heads-up re the link: have adjusted it!
      Glad you have enjoyed the write-ups and thanks for such an interesting comment. I shall have to try and get hold of a copy of that book, it sounds good!
      Lizzie. 🙂

  4. Pingback: Stepping into the real world: transitioning listening | Sandy Millin

  5. Pingback: Autonomous listening skill development: activity 1 | Reflections of an English Language Teacher

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